Okara Literary Festival: Need To Celebrate Creativity, Excellence

We really need to celebrate creativity and excellence in Nigeria, especially in this age of tasteless materialism. Doing so, would have the multiplier effect of building an excellence-oriented future for the country. It is on this score that the birth of Gabriel Okara Literary Festival could appropriately be described as an initiative that deserves commendation and support from all well-meaning Nigerians. It is a legacy that needs to be sustained in the best interest of the arts and posterity. If not for anything, celebrating creativity and excellence in a society that is gradually being overwhelmed by mediocrity and criminality would be a quantum leap in the right direction. 
Beyond the pomp and ceremonies, the festival was quite significant in the University for many reasons. One, it is the celebration of creativity and excellence. Two, UniPort is a leading citadel of learning in arts and culture. For instance, the University has been home to some of the finest Nigerian literary scholars and writers such as Ola Rotimi, Charles Nnolim, Chidi Maduka, Gerald Moore, Willfired Feuser, Chidi Ikonne, Chidi Amuta, Helen Chukwuma and Molara Ogundipe, not to mention other award-winning authors, who either studied or taught in the University.  Three, Okara who was at the centre of the celebration was a Writer-in-Residence in the University alongside Ifeanyi Aniebo, including Elechi Amadi, who passed on recently. Four, UniPort was arguably the cradle of the Nigerian Movie Industry, its art theatre—the CRAB was synonymous with Nollywood. 
Again, UniPort was also a major partner of the Rainbow Book Club and Rivers State Government in hosting the famous Garden City Literary Festival, which later metamorphosed into the Port Harcourt Book Festival. It would be recalled that the festivals was largely instrumental to the conferment of the World Book Capital status on the City of Port Harcourt in 2014.  The importance of the festival cannot be overemphasised. 
Of a truth, arts and culture have not been accorded the attention they richly deserve. In fact, it is a shame to observe that art is still being considered inferior to science and technology. Exchanging views with the rested UniPort Weekly on his return from an International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa, United States of America, where he participated in the Iowa City Book Festival last year, Dr. Obari Gomba of the Department of English Studies expressed dismay at the levity with which the arts are treated in Nigeria. 
 “In Nigeria, Arts is still like the preserve of a few mad people; a kidnapper is accorded more respect than a poet. Advanced countries pay serious attention to the arts, but Nigeria has not looked at the arts. The Nigerian movie industry was built up without any deliberate effort by the government which is claiming the glory today. It is the arts that tell our story. For instance, Iowa is the UNESCO City of Literature. We need to learn from the developed countries,” he observed. 
“Our obsession for the pursuit of science and technology should not be at the expense of the arts, because both derive from the capacity of man to imagine and create. Everything in life begins from our capacity to imagine and reason. In the globalised world, for any society to develop, arts and science must work together,” the award-winning poet added. 
Coincidentally, this was also a position taken by Professor Frank Ugiomoh of the Department of Fine Arts and Design in a radio interview programme moderated by yours truly on Radio UniPort last year. While not advocating jettisoning one for the other, the two scholars, Gomba and Ugiomoh, expressed convergent views on the matter: according attention to arts and science, without neglecting one at the expense of the other, that is. Though on different occasions, the duo noted that balancing arts and science is crucial to the development of any society.        
On Tuesday April 25, 2017, literary enthusiasts, students and scholars from far and wide converged on the University of Port Harcourt. That great gathering of the literati actually took place a day after Dr. Gabriel Okara turned 96. The Institute of Arts and Culture in the University in partnership with The Celi and Joe Ajienka Professorial Chair for Arts and Culture, Faculty of Humanities, Institute of Niger Delta Studies, American Corner, Port Harcourt and Bayelsa State Library Board, put together a literary fiesta in honour of the nonagenarian.  That was the birth of the maiden edition of Gabriel Okara Literary Festival.
The 2017 Gabriel Okara Literary Festival, which had Nigerian Literature since Gabriel Okara: Continuities and Departures as its theme, had the Winner of 2010 Folon-Nichols Award, Odia Ofeimun as keynoter, while lead papers were presented by Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke of Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) and Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma of the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), respectively. The Governor of Bayelsa State, Henry Seriake Dickson, was represented at the event by the Secretary to the State Government, Chief David Serena Dokubo-Spiff.
It didn't end there! Again, on Thursday, May 18, 2017, lovers of literature held arts convocation in honour of the great writer. This time, it was at the Dr. Gabriel Okara Cultural Centre, Yenagoa in Bayelsa State, where they celebrated a book entitled: Gabriel Okara edited by the renowned critic, Professor Chidi Maduka and reviewed by journalist, poet and photographer, Lindsay Barrett. The gathering which equally attracted the academia, literati, royal fathers, students, politicians, among others, was organised by the Faculty of Humanities, UniPort in collaboration with Onyoma Research Publications and Bayelsa State Library Board. Governor Dickson was the Chief Host and the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ndowa Lale was Host. Yes, it was Yenagoa showcasing the man and his intrepid art at its best!        
The 2017 Gabriel Okara Literary Festival has come and gone, but literary enthusiasts, students and scholars and indeed patrons of the arts, are eagerly looking forward to the 2018 edition of the festival. It is a legacy we need to sustain to draw attention to the arts. May we all be in good health as we once again gather to celebrate creativity and excellence in honour of the master craftsman next year!  


You are here: Home News & Events Featured News Okara Literary Festival: Need To Celebrate Creativity, Excellence